Exploration spending rises on demand for copper and electric vehicle minerals

November 27, 2018

Demand for copper, lithium, cobalt and other commodities that will be used in electric vehicles has helped spark a boom in exploration spending by mining companies around the world. S&P Global Market Intelligence released a report that found that exploration spending rose for a second consecutive year, this time to nearly $10 billion.

Budgets jumped about 19 percent, outpacing last year’s gain, which had been the first for the industry – excluding some commodities such as iron ore and aluminum – since 2012, a S&P Global survey of more than 3,000 companies found. The value of exploration for cobalt and lithium, used in rechargeable batteries for electric vehicles, jumped 82 percent in 2018.

A report from Bloomberg NEF in November found that the global energy-storage market will be primary driver of the demand for cobalt and lithium. Bloomberg NEF reported there will be a surge to a cumulative 942 gigawatts by 2040, and that growth will necessitate $620 billion in investment.

The number of companies and entities working on exploration projects in 2018 rebounded to about 1,651 — the first rise in active exploration companies in six years.

Even so, the number is about a third less than in 2012. Equity market funding for explorers also remains constrained. Higher metals prices and improved margins since 2016 have spurred producers to expand exploration work, according to Mark Ferguson, S&P Global’s associate director of metals and mining research.

Spending on exploration and projects is a safer bet than major deals for miners as the sector pivots to growth, according to Aberdeen Standard Investments. Industry observers are poring over satellite images for clues about a Rio Tinto Group project to find copper in a remote patch of Western Australia. Rio Tinto is studying interesting targets and keeping deliberately silent about the results, according to CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques. “I don’t want my peers to know what I’m doing.” he said in August.

Elsewhere, BHP reported it may have found a new copper, iron oxide and gold deposit near an existing mine in Australia, providing a boost for the company which is ramping up exploration as it searches for growth opportunities.

BHP, which is the world’s biggest miner by market capitalization, said it had identified a potential new iron oxide, copper and gold mineralized system about 65km south east of its Olympic Dam mine in South Australia. “Laboratory assay results show downhole mineralization intercepts ranging from 0.5 percent to 6 percent copper with associated gold, uranium and silver metals,” said BHP.

The miner said exploration was at an early stage with just four drill holes assessed so far and it had insufficient information to determine the size, quality and continuity of the ore body.


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